Luke Rockhold really wanted to be the one to dethrone middleweight champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 221, which is why the Californian was naturally upset when he heard the news of Whittaker’s sudden withdrawal from the event due to an undisclosed injury.
“It’s not an ideal situation, of course, obviously,” Rockhold said Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, per MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti. “I’m going across the world to fight a guy that I could fight down the street. I wanted to fight Whittaker. It’s a fight I’ve been seeking for a long time, and I thought it was a good time to make it happen, but obviously he’s got some health issues. I wish him the best and I know Whittaker’s not a man to run away from anything. I respect that kid and I wish him the best. I hope it’s not too serious.”
Instead, Rockhold will get to lock horns with feared middleweight contender Yoel Romero for the interim title in Perth, Australia, and the American Kickboxing Academy standout believes it was the right fight to make.
“Yoel was the option right off the bat, and I’m ready to fight as long as the money’s right, the belt’s on the line,” Rockhold continued. “I had a good conversation with (UFC general counsel) Hunter Campbell and we worked out the situation, and we have an interim belt, which, it’s a good situation for me. Robert will out for over a year now, and champions have to stay active. And when you’re not, I think this is a justified situation. So, Yoel is as tough as they come. I mean, no one beats Yoel unless you’re a champion, and that’s what I am, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Rockhold, who lost his middleweight belt to Michael Bisping at UFC 199 but rebounded with a stoppage win over former WSOF middleweight and light heavyweight champ David Branch, respects Romero but believes ‘Soldier of God’ has more holes to exploit than ‘The Reaper’.
“I think Yoel has more holes to expose in his game,” Rockhold said. “I think Whittaker’s tighter. I think he’s harder to get to, whereas Yoel will kinda leave himself open. So, very similar fights, but I like this matchup.”
Romero lost to Whittaker in an interim title bout last July and Rockhold will look to break the former Olympian on Feb. 11.
“I think Yoel, his body is suspect,” he said. “I think his body can only go so — the way he fights, I think he can only push so hard for so long. Mentally, I think he has it. I mean, he has the will to win even when he’s tired. It’s about making his body quit, and that’s what I plan to do. He’s got limitations, he’s got holes, so I’m going to pick him apart and I’m going to push his body to that breaking point. I know he’s going to come forward, I know he’s dangerous, I know he’s not going to quit, but I know his body will give out, and I’m going to push him to that level.”
UFC 221, which features Rockhold vs. Romero as the headlining championship bout, takes place next month, February 11 at Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.